Palm Pre Plus | The Sega Dreamcast of Smart Phones

After being disappointed with the multitasking implementation in the new iPhone OS 4, I began to look for non-iPhone alternatives to replace my aging 8GB 3G model (which was not getting multitasking support at all under OS 4.0). With a couple bumps a long the way, which included a month of service with Sprint (gasp), a Palm Pixi, and a Blackberry, I settled on a shiny new Palm Pre Plus with Verizon Wireless.

An Unbeatable Bargain

The Palm Pre has been for many, including Palm, a slow burn. First announced at CES 2008, the phone took a full year make it to market, and landed with a Sprint exclusive contract which further hurt its aim. The media, universally agreed that the new Palm “WebOS” was well beyond other smart phones including the iPhone, but the Sprint exclusive made it a non-starter.

Fast forward to end of 2009, and the Pre is launched on Verizon. Priced at a rock bottom $49, the Verizon model includes free mobile hotspot service, which was previously sold as a $40 add-on. This was previously unheard of, and is still not offered for any other devices sold by carriers in the US.

Hardware and Software

The Palm Pre has a unique design. A pebble shaped slider with both a touchscreen and full qwerty keyboard. The entire phone is made of sturdy feeling plastic, I have been using mine without any sort of screen cover or protective case. The screen is the same resolution as the iPhone at 480×320, but renders images better due to a higher pixel density gained in being .4″ smaller than that of the iPhone. Both the slider and keyboard of the phone could have used a bit more work, the slim design means that the keys are less tactile, and the durability of the slider under long term use, questionable.

To earn the “Plus” in the model name, Verizon and Palm made a number of tweaks to the device to improve performance. The Pre Plus ships with double the storage and RAM or the original at 16GB and 512MB respectively. The camera is 3MP and is on par with that of the iPhone with sharp photos in well lit scenes. Video recording on the device is not as impressive, although film are 640×480 VGA resolution.

There is less to say about the WebOS operating system, as it is unchanged from the builds on current Palm devices. The Pre does support 3D gaming, and more graphics intense applications. The multitasking is always of note however, it is the single most obvious thing that the Palm WebOS does better than other smart phones on the market. Opening, closing, and switching between applications couldn’t be easier. Cloud services such as contact syncing with social networks are still better implemented here than on other smartphone services. If the built in services do not cover all bases for you, the application marketplace will be the most glaring failure for this and other Palm Devices. The application store is minuscule at just over 3,000 applications. Yes, after 2 years, just 3,000 applications.

The Sega Dreamcast of Smart Phones

On its own merits, the Palm Pre Plus is a worthy smartphone purchase. At $50 with free hotspot mobile broadband, you can get better value for the money. While using the phone as my primary device, shopping applications, and slowly tweaking the WebOS’ every detail, its sad to see that Palm’s WebOS devices have found such little success in the market.

Viewing the market performance of this device, I cant help but remember the Sega Dreamcast. Much like Sega and its Dreamcast, Palm once dominated the market. After falling behind rivals, this universally praised “comeback” was on paper, better in every way when compared to its rivals. Unfortunately for Palm, their turnaround came too little, too late. From a mile away, it was clear that Palm after years of sliding in the market, wasn’t going to fair well again new rivals Google and Apple. With less cash, less marketing, and a tarnished brand image tied to its previous generation releases, Palm has met a similar fait to Sega, all but exiting the market it once dominated. Now acquired by HP, the software house is likely all that will live on from the Palm of today. The Palm Pre Plus is now also shipping on AT&T , and those looking to buy the current Palm device will indeed be fully satisfied. It was indeed good while it lasted.

Rating: 7/10

Bluetooth: Technology FAIL?

Created by Ericsson in 1994, bluetooth tech has reached ubitquity in consumer technology. Even while being integrated into nearly every cell phone today, bluetooth just never seems to reach its tipping point. Over the years, a number of devices and application have been released to take advantage of the capabilities of bluetooth. Like alot of technology, bluetooth claims to do it all, yet is good at nothing. With profiles for data transfer, wireless voice, remote control, and more; the recently announced bluetooth 3.0 spec even touts high bandwidth video transfers. After finally getting a mobile phone with full bluetooth support, I decided a pick up a couple of the currently available bluetooth devices. My impressions are below:

Blackberry Media Gateway: Also known as the “Blackberry Remote Stereo Bluetooth Gateway”, this device is a simple bluetooth to auxiliary adapter. Pair your audio device with the gateway using bluetooth, and connect the auxilary out from the gateway, into any device of your choosing. I currently using this device to connect both my phone and laptop to my home theater wirelessly. This allows me to watch youtube with my laptop on the couch, and pipe the audio through my surround speakers, or play podcasts from my cell phone while i wash dishes. As a single purpose device, the Blackberry Media Gateway does its job well. Score: 9/10

Kensington Luquid Aux: Among the myriad of poorly conceived ipod accessories, this is perhaps one of the most useful. For those of us without integrated bluetooth in our cars, the liquid aux is a godsend. Functioning similarly to the Blackberry gateway, the Liquid Aux takes bluetooth in, and pipes audio out to your cars aux input jack. Unlike the Blackberry gateway, the Liquid Aux has a build in mic, so it also allows you to take calls from the unit. From the time it takes me to lock the door and walk to my car, the Liquid Aux had plenty time to automatically reconnect to my phone without any manual pairing nonsense. Retailing at $99 at any Apple Store, the Liquid Aux can be had for as little as $30 on Amazon, and is the cheapest, and easiest way to add full bluetooth phone integration into your aux equipped vehicle. Score: 9/10

Insignia NS-BT400: The BT400 is a small bluetooth speaker sold by Best Buy under thier house brand “Insignia”. The most notable component of this device is its price. Launched at $39, the BT400 was cheap for a bluetooth speaker, it was even cheap for an ipod speaker. The cheap price netted you an 2.1 setup, meaning two small drivers and a small subwoofer. The sound output from the speaker was mediocre at best, but for $39, the unit was steal! The unit is very much a throw away model, its low retail price meant that anyone with a bluetooth device could pick the unit up as an impulse buy. But alas, a recent trip to Best Buy revealed that the unit had been discontinued. Even at the rock bottom price, the unit was not popular explained one Best Buy salesman. The BT400 is a perfect example of the awkward place of bluetooth in the market. Like many, bluetooth device, the BT400 was not terribly easy to pair, I could not recommend this device to my grandmother, or sister for that matter. Score: 6/10

Rocketfish Bluetooth Stereo Headphones: Another Best Buy house product, these Rocketfish headphones, also known as the RF-MAB2 are simple headphones, that connect over bluetooth. Much like a popular bluetooth earpiece; there is not much to see here. The Rocketfish units, sound pleasing, with good bass, not audiofile quality, but good considering high fidelity and bluetooth dont mix. The unit included track controls and also an answer/end call key. While I cant imagine many people using the headphones for taking calls, they do employ a workout friendly behind head design, and integrate 4 sound profiles for extra bass or audio clarity. The most mainstream of bluetooth devices, the BT400 is what most people think of when they think bluetooth. Score: 7/10

Macbook Pro 17″ Review (Unibody Spring 2010 Model)

17" Unibody Macbook Pro

Lets start from the beginning. In 2008, I joined the cult of Mac. I purchased a 2.4ghz polycarbondate Macbook. It was love at first sight. Fast forward two years later, my trusty macbook is on its last legs, chipped chassis, display artifacts, you name it.

After strolling into BestBuy to check out the iPad, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Ignoring the fact that my previous Macbook was the most expensive computer I had ever owned by a wide margin, the new model I settled on was twice that of the macbook.

So which model did I select? The 17″ unibody Macbook Pro of course! Complete with new Core i5 processor. Let take a look at this new model, and review how it stacks up compared to my previous Macbook and the current PC market as a whole.

Design: The new Core i5 Macbook Pro changes little from last years model. This is a good thing. The build quality of the unit is impressive, the best of any notebook I have ever used. Using, an edge-to-edge LED backlit glass display, the 17″ model packs a full 1080p 1920×1080 resolution, with an impressive 60% color gamut. Specs aside, the new display is one of the best on the market, and is a key differentiator between the 17″ and 15″ models. Below the screen, the keyboard is standard Apple fare, island style and backlit. The keys have a slight spongy feel and are fairly quiet. You wont mistake this unit for a classic IBM keyboard, but it gets the job done. Of special note, at either edge of the keyboard are the build in speakers. These normally wouldnt be worth much of a mention, but the speakers build into my 17″ model are very loud, loud enough to fill a small room. There is little to no bass, but the volume of the speakers, also combined with the large glass trackpad means that I no longer am connecting external speakers and mice to the unit. An added plus.

Connectivity: The 17″ model comes with a full assortment of ports. Macbook have typically lagged behind in connectivity, and as always, only the most expensive models feature a complete array of connections *sigh*. My 17″ model came with 3 usb, firewire, mini display port, ethernet and a dvd-dr drive. The mini display port now supports audio and video out, bringing full HDMI out support the the Macbook line.

Performance: Performance is perhaps the whole purpose of the most recent upgrade to the Macbook line. While the 13″ model does not benefit as much as the rest of the pro laptop line; sticking with the older Core2Duo, the 17″ model comes standard a new Intel Core i5 chip and 512mb of dedicated video memory. To give the unit better battery life, Apple has implemented a version of Nvidia’s “Optimus” technology which can turn off the graphics chip when not in use. Unless a user is doing heavy number crunching, video encodes, 3d rendering, or other intensive and multithreaded applications, there is not likely to be much of a performance difference. As a casual user, I cant see any benefit in browsing, flash playback, or office duties. Running virtual machines however is noticeably smoother. For those who do fall into the above categories of intense use, the Core i5 chips support Hypertheading for a total of 4 virtual cores. If that is not enough, the system can be upgraded to a faster Core i7. All Macbook Pro models come equipped with 4GB ram, which can later be upgraded to 8GB. The Core i5 BestBuy spec model scores a Geekbench score of 4942, roughly 50% faster than my 2.4ghz polycarbondate model.

Final Thoughts: The latest update to the Macbook line is nothing revolutionary. The refresh keeps the line on par with the rest of the PC market by adding Core i5 and Nvidia Optimus tech. In addition, a couple refinements have also been thrown in for good measure, this includes the audio-over-display port features, and bump in battery life (now 9 hours). As a proud owner of this new 17″ model, my favorite feature by far is the gorgeous display. It is very hard to put into words the clarity and vibrance of the unit. The advanced features and refined build quality come at a price. Starting at $2,299.00, the 17″ model is not a very good value. All of the advancements had in this model can be had in a PC counterpart for far, far less. The entry level 13″ pro model is a near parity with its Windows counterparts, but Apple still manages to milk its best margins from the high-end. But for a creative types, and Apple enthusiasts, this matters little. Even after a huge slimming of my wallet, I am still happy with my purchase, every time I look at that display.

Rating: 7/10